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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


E.2: Sanctioning child victims

2. There were several examples of child victims of sexual exploitation being charged with criminal offences and consequently incurring criminal records, despite the backgrounds to their offending being inextricably linked with their exploitation.

3. CS-A12 received a number of criminal convictions. One related to possession of a bladed article. She told us that this resulted from her chasing a man with a bread knife after he had assaulted her, leaving her with “bust lips and a bust nose, a black eye and … fingerprint marks around my arms and my throat”. She felt that the police, prosecutors and judges failed to see that her behaviour was a result of her exploitation.[1]

4. ‘Daisy’ was well-known to the police by the time she was 13 years old.[2] She was arrested and charged on a number of occasions with offences such as being drunk and disorderly or assault. She described these as being committed in the context of the abuse she was experiencing. When she appeared at the youth offenders court in Rochdale, aged 15, her solicitor tried to explain the abuse she was suffering but no investigation was conducted. Instead, Daisy was sentenced to four months in a young offender institution. On her release, the cycle of abuse and arrests continued.[3]

5. In Bristol, CS-A32 was arrested for a property-related offence and told police that men from a certain place of business, about whom she later made allegations of sexual exploitation, made her do it.[4]

6. In Tower Hamlets, the Metropolitan Police Service has, in recent years, used Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs) against young victims to stop them associating with one another.[5]

7. The prospect of receiving a criminal conviction may deter children from disclosing child sexual exploitation and indeed may serve to increase the hold that perpetrators have over their victims. The treatment of sexually exploited children as criminals in such circumstances is all the more troubling given that, as explained in Part H, too often the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation are not investigated or prosecuted.

8. Mr Gregor McGill, Director of Legal Services at the Crown Prosecution Service, explained that considering whether to prosecute someone who has also been a victim of exploitation involves “some of the most finely-balanced decision-making that my prosecutors have to make”. The more serious the offending, the more compelling the public interest in prosecution. Prosecutors have been given guidance and training to assist them in determining whether the public interest is met by prosecuting someone who has been a victim of exploitation.[6]

9. Prosecutors should carefully consider whether it is in the public interest to prosecute children in these situations. The focus should be on investigating the criminal conduct of sexual exploitation, not sanctioning children for what is frequently low-level anti-social behaviour. The importance of this issue is also reflected in the IOPC’s recent recommendation that “the Law Commission reviews the legislative framework around offences committed while a child or young person is being groomed or exploited to identify whether any changes to legislation would be appropriate to reduce the impact on their future life prospects.” The IOPC recommended that the review “should include both the availability of substantive defences and the potential to filter convictions which occurred in such circumstances during criminal records disclosure”.[7]

10. Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 provides a statutory defence, in some circumstances, for children who carry out certain criminal offences as a direct consequence of their exploitation.[8] This defence is a potentially important safeguard for victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation by networks. Unfortunately, neither the Home Office nor the Crown Prosecution Service collect data on the use of this defence, which the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner recommended in October 2020 should change.[9] Its effectiveness cannot be properly understood without sufficient data. These data should be collated and published.

11. Once a child receives a conviction, there is no mechanism for deleting it from their criminal record unless it is quashed by an appellate court, meaning that victims have to disclose these offences when applying for jobs. There are also only very limited circumstances where previous offences can be disregarded.[10] A campaign has advocated a change in the law to expunge the criminal records of victims and survivors of sexual exploitation who committed crimes at the direction of their abusers.[11]


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